By Lauren McKinney
Sunoco land agents quietly started knocking on doors in Middletown late last winter. They told the homeowners that Sunoco would be taking their land by eminent domain if they didn’t agree to sell. Gases released by fracking the Marcellus Shale have to go somewhere, right? Sunoco has mapped out and planned a 20-inch-diameter pipeline from Ohio to Marcus Hook to carry these volatile gases in liquid form. From underground storage tanks in Marcus Hook the gas will be shipped abroad.
The pipeline, called Mariner East II, will contain gas that is liquefied under 1,500 pounds of pressure per square inch. When a pipeline like this leaked in Follansbee, West Virginia, recently, the clouds of odorless gas exploded into a massive fireball, scorching five acres of cornfields. Here in Delaware County, we don’t have a lot of fields to burn. Near this proposed pipeline, we have schools, hospitals, malls, city streets, and developments. We are one of the most densely populated counties in Pennsylvania, and the largest county in the U.S. without a Public Health Department, which would normally organize a response about pipeline safety. Yet no local public hearing has been held on this pipeline.
That may change, thanks to the efforts of Roberta Winters, of the Radnor chapter of the League of Women Voters, and Eve Miari and the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety. Sunoco’s efforts in Delco have been so stealthy that even Leanne Krueger-Braneky, our state representative for the 161st District, didn’t know about the pipeline until Roberta Winters told her in April. Leanne, who had already been working toward a severance tax for fracking companies, quickly brought herself up to speed and is now pressing for a public hearing here in the county.
All three women, plus local biogeographer James Schmid, enhanced public understanding of the issues as they spoke on Sunday at the Mariner East II Pipeline Forum sponsored by the Swarthmore Environmental Advisory Council. The forum in the Council Room at Swarthmore Borough Hall was standing room only.
Eve Miari’s life changed this August when she saw a Facebook post about a high pressure gas pipeline being built near Linvilla Orchards. Shocked at learning that it would pass only a few hundred feet from Glenwood Elementary School, she mobilized neighbors and friends to attend a Middletown Township Council meeting. They formed the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety, whose members paid $2,000 out of their own pockets to have a risk assessment study done for Glenwood Elementary. The results were alarming. “Sunoco has a terrible safety record. They had a recent leak in Edgmont, and in May they had an ethane leak at the Twin Oaks pumping station in Aston.”
James Schmid said that although pipelines are theoretically the safest way to transport these gases, the process of testing for safety is poorly overseen and is not reported clearly to the public, “When the secretary of the DEP talks like he’s from the Chamber of Commerce, that’s not good.” Roberta Winters added that Integrity Management Plans (detailed plans for risk management that have been used since Deepwater Horizon) are not public in Pennsylvania; the PUC (Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission) does not release them.
Leanne Krueger-Braneky added, “My concern is to see that property rights are not violated and that people are safe. Making sure workers are trained is important.” Finally, she added, “Follow the money. The Marcellus Money Report is coming out tomorrow. See which legislators have taken money from the industry.”
Assures Eve Miari, “We’re not anti-industry. Our goal is to be make sure we are comfortable with the level of risk. Right now we’re not satisfied with the safety level of Mariner East II. This won’t be a short or easy battle. But this is our home.”
What You Can Do
• Join the Middletown Coalition for Community Safety Facebook group.
• Send a letter to the Pennsylvania DEP.
• Attend a hearing in Harrisburg on November 15.
• Contact Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s office with questions and concerns, or Lauren McKinney at firstname.lastname@example.org.